Six Tips to Help Students Build Their First Resume: College and Career Readiness

Oct 27, 2023
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A key part of practicing college and career readiness with your students is discussing the value of a strong resume. But as you do, you’ll likely have to help your students understand how to put their skills and achievements to good use. As your soon-to-be graduating students build their first resume, you might start getting asked the question: “How can I create a good resume if I don’t have any work experience yet?”

As an educator, you have the chance to significantly shape how students feel about their resume-building skills. Students might not have paid work experience, but do they volunteer in their community? Are they involved in any sports? Do they belong to any student organizations? These extracurricular activities might be unpaid, but they’re rich in experiences that will bring value to their resume if described effectively. Let’s look at how you can help your students recognize these unique accomplishments and apply them to their first resume.

Boost College and Career Readiness: 6 First Resume Tips for Students

To help you prepare your students as they gear up for their next chapter, we’ve assembled resume-building advice and resources for you to share with them. Use these tips to help your students build their first resume efficiently and confidently.

1. Learn How to List Education on a Resume

If you have years of extensive work experience, you’ll want that to be one of the first things that hiring managers see when they review your resume. But, if you’re still in school or are a recent graduate – as will be true for most of your students – your academic career takes precedence. Help students understand the importance of putting their best foot forward, no matter what that looks like.

Depending on the role your students apply for, they might want to include some relevant courses they’ve taken or major projects they’ve completed that speak to their knowledge about the field they want to join. As for GPA? If it’s above a 3.4, go ahead and encourage students to add it to their resume.

2. Understand Resume Basics: Keep it Short and Sweet

A short resume doesn’t necessarily correlate with a lack of experience. In fact, one-page resumes are often preferred by hiring managers! The goal is to include relevant work experience—whether paid or unpaid—to show the value that you will bring as an employee. 

Many jobs now use applicant tracking systems (ATS), which are software applications that use an algorithm to screen resumes and narrow down the pool of applicants. A concise resume with relevant keywords will have a better chance of standing out. Give students opportunities to practice sharing their skills and achievements in just a few words. This is the kind of skill that can take some trial and error – the classroom is a great place to do that!

3. Think Outside the Box to Make a Resume with No Experience

Extracurricular activities and volunteer work can often provide students with transferable skills (skills that they can apply in various situations) that would be perfect to include in a first resume. 

A good tip to give to students is to create a list of all the organizations, projects, and opportunities they’ve been a part of, along with the skills they’ve gained. Then, instruct students to narrow down that list based on what’s applicable to the job they’re applying to. Remember to stress the importance of keeping a resume short and sweet.

4. Get to Know Different Resume Formats

The best first impression anyone can make with a resume is to format it in a neat and organized way that clearly highlights the reason why they’re the best person for the job. Discuss some common resume format techniques with your students, highlighting the contexts that best suit each one.

Three Basic Types of Resume Formats:

  • Chronological – This format lists your most recent work and educational history and continues down a timeline in reverse chronological order.
  • Functional – This format highlights your strengths and skills first, followed by your education and work history.
  • Combination – This format is a mix of chronological and functional formats. With it, you can make a chronological list of your experiences and also include a section dedicated to your different types of skills.

Keep in mind that your resume will likely be prescreened by ATS software, so the simpler the resume format, the better.

5. Practice Coming Up with Powerful Action Verbs

A classic mistake many resume writers make is relying on the same uninspired words to convey their value. Remember turning in an essay and getting feedback from your English teacher to “show, don’t tell?” The same applies to resumes. 

Help your students understand the difference between verbalizing and demonstrating what makes them unique. For instance, don’t just write that you have leadership skills; show what actions you’ve taken that prove your leadership. 

Arguably just as important as showing your stuff is knowing how to communicate it in a unique way. That’s where action verbs come in; these are words that carry a positive connotation alongside a sense of action. You might start a sentence with “spearheaded,” for instance, instead of “led.” 

Under your experience sections, start your bullets with action verbs, and plan to give each section no more than five or six bullets each. Unlike a five-page English essay, you’re working with a limited amount of space on your resume, so make those bullets count.

6. Overview Proofreading Tips That Will Improve a Resume

Before your students submit their first resumes, ensure they have the skills to proofread them. Encourage them to walk away and then come back later and proofread their writing again. Another good tip is to share your resume with a friend and have your friend proofread it another time. 

Attention to detail is valuable to employers, and you only get one chance to make a good first impression. You don’t want a small typo to take the focus away from the skills and abilities you’re trying to convey.

For more insights on providing equitable college readiness support to all students, explore our article, Leveling the Playing Field: Simplifying the College Application Process.

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